Do red coloured rubbers play differently from black coloured rubbers? This debate has been raging on online table tennis forums since the start of online forums! Instead of categorically saying yes or no to a rather complicated question im simply going to give you what I have experienced after using hundreds if not thousands of rubbers.
Is there a difference?
In short yes, I believe the feel is different and the way the rubber plays is different but it varies greatly on generation, brand, make, and type of rubber. For instance in my view there is a rather big difference between most tacky Chinese rubbers between the red and black side. It feels different and performs differently id say between 8-10% difference.
However for European & Japanese rubbers the difference between red and black is much much smaller and is a very minute divergence and some makes of rubbers I do struggle to even notice a difference. If I had to put a figure on it id say a 1-2% difference so it is barely even noticable. This could be contributed to the higher quality control.
The differences in detail
Chinese Rubbers: The black rubber of the same make & model is generally tackier than the red side of the same rubber and also slightly softer, this means black Chinese rubbers tend to grip and spin the ball better and also provides a slightly softer touch. This is why a lot of the worlds top players using Chinese rubbers always choose a black rubber for the forehand, they feel it just gives them that performance edge compared to the red side. The extra tackiness can make a big difference and is why there is a bigger divergence between the colours than Euro/Jap rubbers.
European/Japanese Rubbers: The black rubber of the same make & model is slightly softer and also slightly grippier. The difference in general is very small and I find the newer generations to be practically identical. Older generation rubbers had slightly more difference in terms of performance. In particular Nittaku fastarc G-1, the black side felt softer and natural while the red side feels harder and more of a plasticy feel to it.
When picking euro/jap rubbers while the difference is small I still do find myself deliberately choosing which colour specifically suits the rubber better. For example if I find a rubber with a slightly harder topsheet to combat this is will get it in black as I know the black side might be 1-2% softer than the red. Its a very small difference but hey, every little helps. This is the same visa versa, if I feel the topsheet is too soft I will get it in red in the hope it will just be that little bit harder. This is tinkering to the extreme!
Why the variation?
Its been widely reported that it is the coloured dye used to colour the rubber that interacts with the rubber formula which is what alters is feeling and performance slightly. For some reason the red dye makes the topsheet slightly harder and apparently the black dye is more natural and therefore softens the topsheet slightly.
Black v Red
So to summarise the differences:
Hardness of a topsheet
Grip/Tackiness of a topsheet
So which is better red or black? Well… neither it shouldn’t be viewed like this. In my opinion its all about what suits you. You should choose the colour that suits what you want on your forehand and backhand. if you like a harder less grippy rubber on the backhand then put red on the backhand, if you dont choose black. Remember though I am talking about incredibly small differences especially when it comes to European or Japanese rubbers and at the end of the day the differences are so minute that you may not even notice, with some rubbers its very hard to tell a difference at all.
With Chinese rubbers its a little bit different, if your just going to use 1 sheet of chinese tacky rubber on your bat – make it black. Its tackier, softer, will generate ever so slightly more spin and the quality just seems higher.
What about the new Multi-coloured rubbers?
Well as much as it might be pretty to see multi coloured rubbers on everyone’s bats I think this will be a fad, its not very helpful for manufacturers. Not only do they now have to produce 2 colours and say 3 thickness (total of 6 combinations) they are in a situation where they could produce lets say 5 colours and 3 thickness which would mean 15 combinations, and they have to make and store these separately which isn’t very practical. I cant see it personally, maybe having 1 rubber colour other than black would work but not having a choice of 5 or more. For example Donic has a blue sponge – maybe blue rubber too? again Andro could be green? I think this is much more likely then being able to choose colours.
Whether different colour rubbers will have different playing characteristics only time will tell. If the dyes that go into the rubbers alter the overall formula then perhaps yes, there could be a situation where every colour plays slightly differently which would be adding another layer of choice into an already overwhelming chasm of variation and selection
In my opinion red and black rubbers have very small differences in playing characteristics and feel. Red is slightly harder in general, black is slightly softer and grippier. I know there are people that will dispute that there are any differences between the 2, in particular Eur/Jap rubbers, and thats fine, im only telling you what I have noticed after trying hundreds of rubbers. Out of all the infinite variations we have in our rubbers (Type, Make, Model, Thickness, Topsheet Hardness, Pimple Geometry, Sponge hardness, Sponge pore size, boosters) rubber colour probably ranks as the most insignificant one, but its also good to know and for all the bat tinkerers out there its something else to fine tune!